Sea toxins have become very popular as tools of murder, both on television as well as in murder mysteries over the last few years.
One of the most popular, and one of the best known, is Fugu, the Japanese name for pufferfish and the dish prepared from it. The term is used also for the tetrodotoxin poison (TTX for short) in the fish.
Pufferfish eat other sea creatures that have been infected with the TTX bacteria prevalent in some waters and the toxin collects in the liver, ovaries and on the skin of the pufferfish.
Proper handling of the fish during food preparation insures that the toxin is separated effectively. Additionally, there are farms specializing in TTX-free fish to guarantee that the fish are never exposed to TTX-laden food.
The meat of the pufferfish is used in some gourmet sashimi and chirinabe dishes. Interestingly, the liver of pufferfish is said to be the most delectable, as well as the most poisonous, and special care must be taken to assure that a TTX-free liver is used.
TTX is extremely toxic, about 100 times more poisonous than cyanide. Since this murder method has been used successfully in television crime shows and in novels, you might want to do further research to create unique ways of administering the poison.
The Fugu tetrodotoxin can be ingested, injected, inhaled or absorbed through broken skin. So your victim could consume the toxin, have it injected into a vein, inhale the poison or have it rubbed into an open wound. There are so many ways to use this poison and that versatility will certainly feed the imagination of the writer developing a murder scene.
Symptoms from ingestion of TTX usually begin with paralysis of the lips and tongue. Excessive salivation follows shortly after and the heart begins to pound and race to 100bpm or more. Sweating, headache, loss of sensation, general weakness and lack of muscle coordination exhibit next. A sudden fall in blood pressure precedes seizures and cardiac arrhythmias. The symptoms also include severe nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
Since TTX is a neurotoxin and paralytic agent, the victim becomes totally paralyzed as the toxin shuts down nerve impulses (the electrical signals that tell our bodies what to do and how to feel). The interesting part is that the victim remains fully conscious during the process and death results from total paralysis of the diaphragm.
The victim simply stops breathing and dies from asphyxiation. It’s a painful death for sure, with the victim’s full realization of what is about to happen.
The lethal effects from ingesting or inhaling the toxin usually begin within 30 minutes, with a more rapid onset from direct injection. Less direct methods, such as application to broken skin, could take up to four hours for symptoms to appear.
There is no known antidote for the Fugu tetrodotoxin, but immediate respiratory support increases the survival rate. And the drug Fampridine, a treatment option for multiple sclerosis, has been used in some cases to reverse the progression of the paralysis. This drug could be a useful tool to save your protagonist from death by pufferfish poisoning.
Next week, I’ll highlight more poisons from the sea. Until then, enjoy conjuring up your next murder scene using TTX.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!